First off, to damn with faint praise, Doctor Who has been better this year than for a while. For much of this first half of this year's series, I have been able to watch it with actual interest, rather than feeling that I've been suckered by a title borrowed from a series that was significant to me in my teen years, and that I'm being insulted by self-indulgent junk. It's become light science fantasy with a bit of style, some functional plots, and decent characteristation.
Well, the first half of the first half, anyway.
The core problem with NuWho resurfaced in episode 5. It wasn't just the skimpy, predictable, but painfully implausible plot, the ropey science and the frenetic hand-waving; it was the sense that all of these things were familiar. They weren't just repeating Who-at-its-worst; they looked like an almost-conscious homage to Who-at-its-worst. In other words, this was Who written by someone who'd seen far too much Who, and who thought that repeating stylistic stuff from over the last fifty years with nary a thought to how stupid it might look today was the way to go. Given that, the decision to stretch the story out over two episodes, when many better plots have been jammed into one, was just adding insult to injury.
(I notice that some more serious fans are complaining about moral inconsistencies in the Doctor's behaviour at the end of this story. This seems to me to be missing a large point. Before you can worry about moral logic, you need simple consistent logic - without any and all inconsistencies being hand-waved away.)
Then, strangely enough, along came episode 7. Oh dear.
You could say that this made a similar mistake, seeming at times to be paying homage to the worst bits of Davies-era NuWho. But I'd be simpler than that. This episode resembled nothing but the worst sort of fanfic.
It was overloaded with guest appearances that made less and less sense the closer you looked at them, and introduced a whole bunch of new characters who the writer thought would be cool (a sword-wielding Silurian detective in Victorian London!) or funny (a Sontaran nurse). Unfortunately, none of it was half as clever as it thought it was, and surely even the youngest of fans will noticed that they were being pandered to - ineptly - by the end?
Okay, I'll watch the second half of the 2011 series when it shows in a few months. I'm hoping that the nature of this war against the Doctor will be explained in more detail, and that his enemies' need for a baroque and implausible plan in order to create a bizarre weapon to use against him will turn out to have an interesting explanation, instead of just being another stupidly complicated attempt to destroy him (when they could have shot him or blown him up at various points during this episode). I'm hoping that the Headless Monks will have an interesting explanation and history, instead of just being another bunch of nursery-scary, stylish, faintly surreal Moffat monsters. (Actually, it's a terrible thing how nursery-scary, stylish, faintly surreal Moffat monsters have gone from being wonderful to being a cliché in a few short years). We'll probably get some half-decent episodes. But frankly, I think that I'm going to be stuck damning with very faint praise again.